Zodiac - 2007
Director(s): David Fincher
Writer(s): James Vanderbilt (screenplay) and Robert Graysmith (book)
Cinematography by: Harry Savides
Editor(s): Angus Wall
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox and Chloë Sevigny
Synopsis: In the late 1960s and 1970s, fear grips the city of San Francisco as a serial killer called Zodiac stalks its residents. Investigators and reporters become obsessed with learning the killer's identity and bringing him to justice.
We are now a decade removed from the release of David Fincher’s Zodiac and I don’t think it’s too early to call it one if not the best movies of the 2000’s. Sadly, it’s considered to be one of Fincher’s biggest misfires at the box office, especially when we compare it to his massive follow-up hit, The Social Network. But like all great films it eventually found its audience and has garnered praise for what can only be described as a technical masterpiece.
After Fincher was brought on board he quickly dove head first in to any and every piece of information he could get on the killings. The production team had access to almost all the case files from the killings and sit-down interviews with the living survivors and the police involved in the investigation. Fincher’s mindset was, if he was going to portray these horrible events that terrorized an entire city, he needed to recreate them as truthfully as possible.
This level of commitment lead to one of the most visceral portrayals of murders I have ever seen on film. They aren’t visceral because of the gore or the gratuitous violence, they are visceral because of how realistically they are presented. It’s almost procedural, the execution of the sequences, as if a police officer is directing the film playing out the events exactly how they occurred. Fincher and cinematographer Harry Savides (The Game) recreated the crime scenes to the last strand of hair, thanks to all the files and pictures they obtained during their research.
Quick note: Fincher also used a lot of CGI to further perfectly recreate the crime scenes. Since San Francisco of the 2000s had drastically changed, he utilized CGI to time travel his cast back to the late 60s and 70s.
Along with the murders being meticulously recreated, the look of the Zodiac killer was recreated as well based on the survivors’ testimonies. We are not shown the killer outside of any event an eye witness or survivor saw him during his killing spree. Fincher cast four different actors to portray the killer based on how he was described (height, weight and body mass). This level of detail is what elevates this movie among the rest of the crime dramas of its time.
This film is as much about the Zodiac killings as it is a study of obsession and how it can destroy your life. Almost everyone that was involved in this investigation let themselves be consumed by the search for the killer. But the best example is Robert Graysmith, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. He is a cartoonist who worked at one of the four newspapers the Zodiac sent letters too. Graysmith became more and more obsessed as he started to decipher the codes sent to the police and newspapers. We see him being one of the few to never give up on the investigation, losing his wife and job in the process. This obsession is beautifully mirrored by Fincher’s pursuit for perfection, since he is famous for asking his actors to do multiple takes for almost all his scenes.
Zodiac also has an amazing ensemble cast that all perfectly fit their roles, from the main players to the supporting roles, all helping to create and maintain the moment from beginning to end. The ones that standout in my head, outside of an incredible performance from Gyllenhaal, was Mark Ruffalo as Inspector David Toschi. Everything from his mannerisms to his accent helped me completely forget that I was watching Ruffalo portraying a character and buy in to a dedicated, smart inspector that so happens to be obsessed with Animal Crackers.
Quick note, Ruffalo also has the best line in the movie: “Suspect's negro male adult, who also happens to be a stocky, crew cut caucasian.”.
While Zodiac can be boxed into many categories - drama, crime, thriller for example - it clearly stands out amongst the rest of its peers. Fincher’s attention to detail in all aspects of the production and execution bleeds through in the final product. Despite this film being close to 3hrs long, I find it to be extremely re-watchable, gaining a new nugget of appreciation after each viewing. David Fincher is why I love movies.
Zodiac is currently playing on Netflix. Just watch it.
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